On today, the 12th of November, 2012, I thought I’d celebrate Ri-guy’s birthday a little by posting his birth story that I wrote only a few weeks after his birth. Reading through it has made me tear up more than once, to think that this “little” baby is now a walking, talking, potty-training, loving, cuddly monkey man… it’s just mind-boggling. It’s a bit of a read, but I hope you enjoy.
This is the story of Riley’s arrival into the world on 12 November, 2010 – my much wanted, much hoped for home water birth; my 3rd labour and birth.
My husband and I started trying to conceive the month we got married – July 2005… and in that process, I obsessed a bit – a birth junkie was born. Not long after, I “discovered” the concept of home birth, and consequently, water birth, and decided that I wanted both. I get pretty bad back pain during my period, so I knew that back labour would probably be something that I would have to contend with, and I knew that water helped immensely with back labour. (Little did I know how well!!) My first two labours/births were neither at home, nor was water really involved. Those two stories are for another time, because they are both interesting in their own rights. So, when I finally got my home water birth, it was over FIVE YEARS that it had been in my heart and something that I was passionate about. Now, because I AM so passionate about this, and because it WAS such an amazing experience… this story is long, but I hope you’ll find it worth the read.
IMMEDIATELY after finding out that I was pregnant with my 3rd child, I went about finding out if there was a midwife in town… which, to my dismay, there was not. In Australia, where I’d given birth to my first two boys, we lived in Melbourne, and had access to many midwives, and an entirely different system with how pregnancy and birth are “dealt with.” Here in semi-rural BC, in a country where midwifery isn’t as prolific as it should be, the midwifery shortage is much more apparent to me than it was in Urban Victoria, Australia.
To paint a picture, home birth IS covered by Medicare (again, here in BC), with a certified midwife… but if you don’t have a midwife, then your only option for a home birth is UC (Unassisted Childbirth), which has a very broad meaning. Some take it that there is NO ONE but mama present… but that is rare. Most understand that unassisted generally means MEDICALLY unassisted – meaning that there is no medical professional present at the birth. At first, I was extremely adverse to the thought, and when I emailed two friends (Gloria Lemay and Emma Kwasnica – two staunch advocates for mamas, babies and the family unit) about my situation, both suggested UC. Initially that came as a surprise to me (since Gloria has been a midwife for over 20 years, and Emma at one point was also considering midwifery), but after some thought, I realised that they both knew that having already done this twice, I’d be fine… I just needed to figure that out myself.
I came into contact with 2 possibilities that would make a UC not necessary, but for whatever reason, NEITHER of those options panned out… and I took those as signs that THIS was what I was supposed to do: an unassisted home birth. I was confident that things would go as our bodies were designed to make them go, and that my husband and the 3 friends who I’d asked to help out would be more than enough support to get things done. I’m a Christ-follower, and very very confident in the knowledge that my body was created to birth babies, as women have been doing for EONS… and that faith kept me strong in the face of adversity (and believe me, it was THERE). I finally came to the realisation that because I’d done this twice before, I’m practically old hat at this, pffft!
Because of the adversity that was there, hubby and I had some serious discussions about the “what ifs.” Todd was confident in my knowledge, my own confidence and faith in my body and this process, but his biggest issue lay in the fact that IF things got hairy, he wasn’t confident that he could get my knowledge out of my head, if, say, I was in transition, not able to focus, etc. He feared being the one responsible when it could possibly be my life and the life of our baby on the line. AND, because he knew how bad I wanted this home water birth, he feared that my view would be clouded, and I’d be too stubborn to go to the hospital if something DID go awry. So, we made a decision to be UNDECIDED – no definite, in-stone plan, but two strong options: hospital or home…. and we were prepared for both. I printed out a birth plan to take to the hospital with us, along with a packing list of things to put in the bag. We had our Aquaborn birth pool, and had purchased a home birth kit. We were set either way. And I promised Todd that if, at any point, he felt uncomfortable with the direction things were going, I would agree to go to the hospital. And obviously, if at any point I felt we needed to go, we’d go. Barring that, I’d labour at home as long as possible, to spend as much time as possible in the pool, because we knew our hospital wouldn’t allow us to bring it in. This decision to be undecided gave us both peace (surprisingly!), and our journey to that decision made our relationship that much stronger.
I had been getting somewhat strong contractions from about 38 weeks, which was not a surprise, as my 2nd was 2 weeks early, and, with all three of my pregnancies, I had Braxton Hicks contractions from about week 10 onward. Each time I went in to the Dr, he’d show a bit of concern that Riley hadn’t engaged yet (well, I knew that he’d had, he’d just moved back up each time), and actually started putting a bit of pressure on me, wanting to do a membrane sweep at 36 weeks. He was concerned that Riley was getting too big – he thought that at 36 weeks he was about 7.5/8lbs, and he felt that doing a sweep would result in me going into labour in roughly 2 weeks (with an unripe cervix – OUCH!). I held my ground on that – I felt that I’d birthed an almost 10 pounder, and a 9 pounder, I didn’t NEED to go early. I’m so glad I did.
At 39w5d, Dr checked my cervix, and said that I wasn’t ripe at all, and that I wouldn’t be going into labour that weekend. At 40w3d, I had my next appointment, and he said that I was ripe, but not dilated at all. He expressed concern that because Riley hadn’t engaged, that maybe his head was too big. I told him that my first had a HUGE head at birth (40cm), and he came through my pelvis. He said that he’d see me again on Monday (this was Weds), and at that point, he’d refer me to the Gyno for him to assess whether or not he felt that I could birth Riley naturally. If not, then I would be scheduled for a c-section.
Well, to say that I was nervous is an understatement. I felt SO many emotions, including frustration with myself, that I was allowing a dr to tell me something that I knew as false and not accurate (in MY situation). After all this, I knew his concern stemmed from the fact that Riley wasn’t engaged, but I ALSO knew that NEITHER of my two older boys fully engaged until labour either – that is the way that MY body works. And Riley HAD already engaged, MULTIPLE times (just like with the other two), but had worked his way back up again. The timing just happened that he was never engaged during a pre-natal appointment.
Now, I have to interject here to say that I am NOT anti-medicine. I firmly believe, and KNOW, that the medical profession has saved many lives, and that c-sections are a necessity. HOWEVER, I ALSO firmly believe that c-sections are a way to avoid liability and ensure that the medical profession has their collective ASS covered, and far far more c-sections happen every year than what are MEDICALLY NECESSARY. I also know, based on MY OWN EXPERIENCE, that a “cascade of interventions” is NOT made up, or a fairy story – it is a REAL PHENOMENON that I have had the misfortune to experience. I also know that for a low-risk mama, home birth is by far the best option for mama AND babe, and the entire family unit. Pregnancy, labour and birth are not collectively a disease or syndrome that need to be treated. They are collectively a biological, a physiological process that our bodies were designed to do… and the more we mess with it, the more messed up it becomes. Getting back to the basics is the key to empowering future generations of mothers.
So, back to my story. Wednesday, the 10th of November was the day that I last saw the Dr, and he was confident that he’d be seeing me on Monday, the 15th. Friday the 12th, I woke up at 4am to my youngest son (oops, now my middle son!) crying because he’d had a bad dream. I went to him and comforted him, and then tried to get back to sleep. It took awhile, because my contractions (which felt like strong Braxton Hicks, nothing to get excited about) kind of kept me awake. At 5.10ish, I woke up to a strong (real!) contraction, and after 2 of those, I started timing them at 5.26am. They were still fairly distant (about 10 min or so), but enough for me to continue timing until 7ish.
I had gotten out of bed around 6.30am – I wasn’t sure if I was in for a long labour or a short one, as I’d had one of each (49 hours and 4 hours), and I didn’t want to keep hubby awake in case it was a long one. I told him I was going downstairs, and that I’d holler if I needed him. My boys got up to find mummy already awake (a RARITY!), and as a treat, they got to watch some Treehouse (preschool channel – another rarity, the tv is usually never on in the mornings!)… so they knew SOMETHING was up. At this point, the contractions were strong, but not quite strong enough to cause pain, I just had to focus to get through each one.
I called my labour team around 7am – my girlfriends Carol, Jesse and Val – and told them not to rush, just have a shower, have breakie, and come over when they were done. No rush, I was just plodding along. (Jesse was my photographer, and Carol and Val would be there to help Todd with me, and with my two older boys, Xavier and Shannon.) Jesse arrived around 7.30am, Val around 8.30am, and because Carol was at work, I told her that I’d call her when things kicked into gear. At this stage, we started filling the Aquaborn pool, and realised that our hot water tank wasn’t big enough to fill the pool… we ended up heating up pots of water on the stove to heat it up!
I went for a nap at around 10am, and slept through about half of the contractions, and fell back asleep right after the ones that woke me up. Just after 11am, I got up, feeling great after my rest, and excited that things were starting to ramp up. I called Carol to let her know that she could come over whenever – the contractions, whilst still not regular, were getting more intense, and I was ready to get into the pool. By 11.30am, the pool was ready, and I was able to get in.
I knew that water would help with contractions, but like I said before, little did I know how well! Instantly I got relief from the pressure in my back, and my contractions were just concentrated in my uterus. I think that part of the reason why I get back labour is because I get BIG in pregnancy, and the contractions are spread throughout my entire core… but with the weightlessness of water? BLISS. Really. Over the next 2 hours, I got out for 3 pee breaks. Each time, I’d get caught out of the water with a contraction, and WOW, the difference was mind-boggling. Stats say that immersion in water helps reduce pain during contractions by up to 50%, but I truly believe that figure is very conservative. In my case, I’d have to say that the water took about 80% of my pain away – and I’m not exaggerating. The exciting part of this, for me, is that I never “hit” transition. I mean, obviously, I dilated from 7 to 10cm at SOME point, but I didn’t get crazy or panicky, didn’t get irritated by noise (like I did with my 2nd) or light or conversation. Life was just peachy, and so long as no one spoke TO me during my contractions, whilst I was concentrating on the wave, I felt grand.
At 1.30pm, Todd and I discussed the hospital option. I had only JUST started vocalising through the waves, and only just low moaning. Consequently, he was still ok, not nervous at all, and he pointed out that my contractions were still quite erratic. Something I attribute to the water – I feel that my body was much more efficient when contracting, so the contractions only got consistent for just over 20 minutes. At this stage, I’d get 2 contractions a minute or two apart, only 30 seconds each, and then nothing for 6 minutes. We were using contractionmaster.com to time my contractions. It had been like this for the majority of the day, and it was only from about 11am that the intensity changed, not the frequency or duration – they remained erratic the whole time. We decided to continue on at home, and re-evaluate in awhile.
At 1.35pm, I got the first of 7 REGULAR, consistent contractions. They were between 55 and 65 seconds long, and 3 1/2 to 4 minutes apart. At about 1.55pm, I had to take another pee break. While I was out of the water, I got 3 HARD and FAST contractions, and while in the bathroom, I started to grunt, and feel pushy. I reached down, and lo and behold, I could feel a squishy noggin. (What I realised about 5 minutes later was actually my bag of water, with skull just past that.) Todd said to Jesse “he’s going to be here in about 15 to 20 minutes – we aren’t going to the hospital now.” We got me back into the pool, which was a struggle, because the contractions were coming so fast and so hard, I needed the help to stand. They were so intense that in between, I just needed to rest, and climbing over the side of the pool was no small feat! At 2.02pm, I told the gals to stop timing, because he was coming, and there was no point in timing the spacing anymore.
I leaned on the wall of the pool, and Todd put pressure on my perineum with a washcloth, while I maintained pressure on the front of my vagina, to give me some relief from the burning. It took me about 5 pushes to get Riley’s head out, and I DID have two moments of, not doubt, or fear, but more just, “damn, I need RELIEF from this!” A lot of curse words definitely left my lips, though I can’t really remember how much. I thought at one point: “what the HELL was I thinking that I wanted to do this again?” and I DID say to Todd: “I don’t think I can do this.” His response was perfect, amazing, and a testament to how awesome my man is. DESPITE his lack of self-confidence, he really stepped up to the plate: “You CAN do this, and you ARE doing this. You’re doing awesome honey, you almost have his head out, you can do it baby!” THAT was all I needed – support, belief and encouragement from my soul mate. Riley’s head was out at the next push, and then Todd continued to cheer me on, giving me the play by play: “ok D, his shoulders are almost out, just a couple more pushes, you’re almost done!” All told, my pushing was just over 20 minutes from when I FIRST started to feel grunty in the bathroom.
At 2.22pm, Riley Morgan Galloway was born – in the water, en caul (in his bag of waters), caught by Daddy. Present and watching in AWE at his birth were his two big brothers, Xavier and Shannon, and “Aunties” Carol, Jesse and Val.
Todd passed Riley through my legs to me, and I pulled open the membrane sac to pull Riley out, and onto my chest. Todd and the girls were a bit… nervous, because of his colour, and the fact that he didn’t scream or cry right away. Riley just laid on my chest, grunting, gurgling, and making faces until he cleared out his airway (I helped a bit by putting my mouth over his nose and mouth and sucking to get some of the fluid out)… and when he let out his first little cry, they breathed a sigh of relief. I kept telling them it was ok, it’s normal, but tv and movies have done such a good job of showing us that babies are pink, clean and dry, and screaming right out of mummy’s womb, that it’s hard to digest at first, unless, like me, you’ve seen a billion photos and youtube videos of birth.
After Riley was born, Todd called the hospital to find out if/when we should come in. (I wanted to be checked for any tears, and really wanted to know how heavy Riley was.) We were told to, instead of driving the 5 blocks to the hospital, call the paramedics for transport (ONLY) to the maternity ward. They told us it’d be easier for us. Whatever. The medics came in, took over, and to make THAT long story short, they wouldn’t let me eat or drink the second they walked in the door (not even water), they put a 16 gauge IV in me (I still had the mark almost 3 weeks later), wouldn’t let me get dressed, or even let Todd grab me clothes (I went to the hospital in nothing but my wet sports bra and a blanket)… AND, wait for it… they made me stop breastfeeding Riley so they could MOVE me from my air mattress on the floor to the transport chair WITH my placenta HALF-DELIVERED. The mat nurse was confused as to why I had an IV, why they tried their damndest to move me before delivering the placenta, and why they wouldn’t allow me to eat or drink. (I birthed Riley’s placenta on my OWN, much to the paramedics’ chagrin, at exactly half an hour after Riley was born – WELL within protocol.) But, that was the only negative part of this story, and although it needs to be told, I’d rather continue on, and finish this novella.
We were only at the hospital for 4 hours. I got checked and fed, Riley got checked and fed (boobies!), and we were discharged by 7pm. The mat nurse, Tegwen, and her intern, as well as the nursery RN were just AWESOME. I had only two tiny 1st degree tears, so no stitches, and although there was a piece of the placenta torn (probably due to being made to MOVE with it half hanging out of me!), it was complete. Riley had a smidge of meconium in his hair (probably passed while he was on his way out), but then, my other two had it as well, so I wasn’t concerned. Riley was 4.912kg (10lb 13oz) and 56cm long (22″), with a head circumference of 37cm. My labour was just under 9 hours long, with only half an hour of HARD labour, and then just over 20 minutes of pushing.
I am so overjoyed that after all the adversity we’d faced, God had given me one of my heart’s biggest desires – a home water birth, with NO COMPLICATIONS. I believe that God’s given me this passion in my heart to pass on to other women, and help them find the confidence they need to birth with conviction, courage, and strength. I hope that women will be inspired by my journey – one from a birth with a cascade of interventions, to a natural hospital birth to an unassisted home water birth. It was an amazing journey and one which I will never forget.